The Glossy World of College Publications
By Dave Berry
Moms and Dads are always looking to find out more about the world of college that awaits their sons and daughters. They surf the 'Net, talk to friends and co-workers, and, sooner or later, end up reading those terribly slick and sometimes very oversized college publications known as viewbooks.
Would that we could all live the lives of those squeaky-clean young men and women pictured there. Viewbooks are designed to be cheery promotional pieces. They're expensive to produce but the mission is simple: Portray the college or university in the best-possible light. It's image first. Damn the realities. Full spin ahead!
Have you noticed a strange sameness about viewbooks? If visitors from other worlds ever stumble upon some of them, reports of their findings would note the interestingly similar aspects of American colleges:
So, don't judge a college by its brochure. Gather first-hand intelligence about the schools on your kid's list. The two most important sources of information are your personal impressions and comments from the students who go there. A never-ending and immensely helpful supply of the latter may be found on the College Confidential forum.
Personal visits are mandatory. Unless you have "trod the sod" of your son's or daughter's candidate schools, you'll never really know what it's like to be there. Schedule a visit. Check out the school's Web site for details. Be sure to share your college visit experience on our Campus Vibe section upon your return, as well as view the reports of other prospective students.
Resident students' opinions can be a little more difficult to gather. While you're on campus, ask questions. College guidebooks are another way to get this valuable inside information. One that you may have spotted in your local bookstore, The Princeton Review's The Best 366 Colleges, is the one you want because of its take-no-prisoners candidness. You'll find student-survey comments about class sizes, food, social life, workloads, political leanings, and other revelations. When exposed to this kind of truth, viewbook images can fade quickly.
One of my favorite ploys when visiting a college campus is to look "behind" the scenes. I note the little things: How is trash handled? Are illegally parked cars ticketed? Does the campus security force have a strong presence? Are the lines in the parking lot new and fresh or have they almost disappeared? Sometimes, in order to discern the invisible traits of a college, all you have to do is look very carefully at the visible ones.
Don't be fooled by clever marketing, creative photography, and slick packaging. It's your money and your child's college experience. Invest some time in protecting your investment. It's just like political elections: You've got to investigate the candidates. A great first step in narrowing down your list is our SuperMatch college search tool. Check it out!